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Twilight of the Gods: Page 850
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[P. 268] “With the sketch of ‘Tristan und Isolde’ I felt that I was really not quitting the mythic circle opened-out to me by my Nibelungen labours … . For the grand concordance of all sterling Myths, as thrust upon me by my studies, had sharpened my eyesight for the wondrous variations standing out amid this harmony. Such a one confronted me with fascinating clearness in the relation of Tristan to Isolde, as compared with that of Siegfried to Bruennhilde. Just as in languages the transmutation of a single sound forms two apparently quite diverse words from one and the same original, so here, by a similar transmutation or shifting of the Time-motive, two seemingly unlike relations had sprung from the one original mythic factor. Their intrinsic parity consists in this: both Tristan and Siegfried, in bondage to an illusion which makes this deed of theirs unfree, woo for another their own eternally-predestined bride, and in the false relation hence arising find their doom. Whereas the poet of ‘Siegfried,’ however, before all else abiding by the grand coherence of the whole Nibelungen-myth, could only take in eye the hero’s downfall through the vengeance of the wife who at like time offers up herself and him: the poet of ‘Tristan’ finds his staple matter in setting forth the love-pangs to which the pair of lovers, awakened to their true relation, have fallen victims till their death. Merely the thing is here more fully, clearly treated, which even there was spoken out beyond mistake: death through stress [P. 269] of love (Liebesnoth) – an idea which finds expression in Bruennhilde, for her part conscious of the true relation. What in the one work could only come to rapid utterance at the climax, in the other becomes an entire Content, of infinite variety; and this it was, that attracted me to treat the stuff at just that time, namely as a supplementary Act of the great Nibelungen-myth, a mythos compassing the whole relations of a world.” [811W-{12/71} Epilogue to ‘The Nibelung’s Ring’: PW Vol. III, p. 268-269]

In Tristan and Isolde, of course, Tristan woos his own predestined love, Isolde, for his uncle King Marke, and in so doing brings doom to himself and his lover Isolde. The meaning is the same in both instances, Tristan and the Ring: the artist-hero has betrayed the secret hoard of knowledge once held for him by his muse, his own unconscious mind, to the light of day, so that both he and his audience can become conscious of them, and with this knowledge comes unbearable shame. In this the artist-hero finds his doom, because, having become conscious of what heretofore was his unconscious source of inspiration, he can no longer produce genuinely inspired art. His art has become too self-conscious to be redemptive.

I believe it can genuinely be said of this plot scenario that it is the fundamental basis of Wagner’s revolutionary, mature music-dramas, inasmuch as the first two of his four essays in this unique art genre have identical plots. What is more, this plot is also the basis for Tannhaeuser, one of his three canonical, romantic operas which preceded his development of the revolutionary music-drama. Like Siegfried and Tristan, the unconsciously inspired artist-hero Tannhaeuser unwittingly, as if under a spell, reveals the true but formerly hidden source of his artistic inspiration, the Venusberg and his muse Venus, during the performance of his song about love which is intended to win the hand of his waking muse Elizabeth (by waking I mean she is his conscious motive for artistic production). We must presume that each time Tannhaeuser has left Venus and the Venusberg to go out into the world and perform the songs which her love has inspired, he forgets both her and the Venusberg and attributes his inspiration to something else, perhaps God in heaven, or Elizabeth on earth. In any case, he finds his doom in revealing to the assembled guests at the Wartburg song contest his true, venal source of inspiration, which is not divine, but rather, from the standpoint of the conservative, religious folk, satanic.

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